Global Science Fiction 🚀


Spring 2018
Tue/Thu 12:05 - 1:20
Location: Elec Eng West 201

Professor Grant Wythoff <>
Office hours Tue 2:00 - 3:00
317 Pattee Library

Skip to the schedule…


This class will introduce students to the history and poetics of science fiction (SF). Our focus will be international, surveying the global production of speculative narratives in several languages (all translated into English). Each of the novels—and some comics—we will read in the first portion of the course represent a pivotal moment in the development of the genre: from nineteenth-century utopian precursors, to pulp magazines, to the postwar Golden Age, to New Wave explorations of race, gender, and sexuality. The remainder of the course will survey contemporary SF from around the globe, with a particular focus first on urban narratives, and then on other worlds.

Our reading will be guided by an attention to the specific frames of reference that a work of SF demands: the reader of SF must continuously triangulate the relationship between her world and the world of the text, and she must remain open to polyvalent interpretations of terms and concepts that take on new meaning in alternate universes. How do works of SF elicit this form of critical literacy, and how might it be usefully applied to other kinds of texts and experiences?

Required Books

Optional Film Screenings

I’ve arranged to have the Immersive Environments Lab in the School of Architecture available to our class this semester for some film screenings. Details and schedule here. Just know that I’ll be showing a handful of science fiction films on Monday evenings, and extra credit will be in order for attendance. Shortlist includes:

Grade breakdown

28% participation

Class participation on all fronts is vital to the success of this course. Simply attending class will not be enough to earn full credit. Instead, you must be an active participant, someone who comes prepared and engages with all aspects of the class. Your total participation grade will encompass a) bringing your book or printed pdf to class on the date assigned, b) active contributions to discussions, and c) occasional reading quizzes.

24% reports on real-world novums (four)

It has become a truism that the real world seems to have finally caught up with science fiction: technologies that are now mundane parts of our everyday lives (satellite GPS, biometrics, augmented reality) were once the genre’s wildest dreams. But what does it mean when we experience something (a news story, a new piece of technology, a world event) as feeling “like science fiction?”

Four times throughout the semester, you will report on a real-world “novum” (SF critic Darko Suvin’s term for a novelty or innovation) that feels like science fiction. Your short piece should consist of three paragraphs describing the novum and reflecting on the lessons and questions it offers for the way we live today with technology, with the changing environment, and with one another. The purpose of these exercises is to see what happens when we apply the critical questions of science fiction studies to our everyday lives.

24% short essays (two)

Two short critical essays will be assigned, each focusing on one novel from our readings. Both essays will run 5 double-spaced pages each (~1500 words). Details on essay 1 here.

24% speculative design final project

For your final projejct, you will “re-design” an existing technology, infrastructure, or social form. These interventions can range from micro-level (e.g. proposing a particular tweak to the infrastructure of the Internet and tracing its consequences) to whole-cloth (e.g. envisioning an alternate communication system). You will situate this re-design among the novels we have read, using the texts to help imagine the structure implications of your re-design. The final form of this assignment will be a paper of 5 to 7 pages, properly referenced, and with additional media as necessary or desired. Virtually any medium could work: paper prototypes, clay, painting, video, etc. You will additionally give an informal presentation of your re-design to the class.

Summary of Assignment Due Dates


Attendance and Deadlines

While I do not advocate missing any classes, I realize that you may face unpredictable circumstances once or twice throughout the term. For this reason, you may miss two classes this semester without penalty. Additional absences will impact your final grade. Each additional absence will lower your final grade by half a letter. No extensions will be given on assignment deadlines except in extreme (and verifiable) circumstances. These circumstances include reasons of health and extenuating circumstances, such as death of a family member.

Laptop Policy

Laptops are allowed in the classroom, but we will put them away for specific periods of time during instruction (i.e. group discussions). When your laptop is open during allotted periods of time (i.e. lectures or writing assignments), be sure to practice good screen etiquette: keep it to the side and don’t stare too long. Cellphones are not permitted during class.

Academic Integrity

Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20).

Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University’s Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanction.

Counseling and Physiological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park (CAPS): 814-863- 0395; Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses; Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229- 6400; Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Equal Access

Penn State encourages qualified people with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities and is committed to the policy that all people shall have equal access to programs, facilities, and admissions without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell me as soon as possible.


Weeks 1 - 2: How to Read SF

Tue Jan 9

Thu Jan 11

Tue Jan 16

Thu Jan 19

Weeks 3 - 6: Histories of SF

Pulp Origins

Tue Jan 23

Thu Jan 25

The Golden Age

Tue Jan 30

Thu Feb 1

The New Wave

Tue Feb 6 & Thu Feb 8

Tue Feb 13 & Thu Feb 15

Weeks 7 - 9: Urban Futures

Tel Aviv

Tue Feb 20

Thu Feb 22


Tue Feb 27

Thu Mar 1



Tue Mar 13

Thu Mar 15

Week 10 - 15: Other Worlds

Cixin Liu

Tue Mar 20 & Thu Mar 22

Tue Mar 27 & Thu Mar 29

Interlude: Some Comics

Tue Apr 3 & Thu Apr 5

Readings TBD, could include:

Kim Stanley Robinson

Tue Apr 10 & Thu Apr 12

Tue Apr 17 & Thu Apr 19

Nnendi Okorafor

Tue Apr 24 & Thu 26


Thanks to Lisa Yaszek, Nicholas Knouf, Eric Hayot and Matt Tierney, whose syllabi and pedagogy influenced the design and content of this course.